The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.
Lama Je Tsongkhapa has written: The development of an awakening mind (bodhicitta) is the framework of the Mahayana path and the foundation and basis of all the great waves of bodhisattva actions. Like an elixir that turns all metals to gold, it transforms all actions into the two collections (of wisdom and merit). It is a treasure of merit that accumulates limitless collections of virtues. Knowing this, the heroic sons of the conquerer, Buddha, adopt this jewel-like development of an awakening mind as their fundamental (practice).
The following is an English rendering of the oral instructions of Geshe Rabten, a Tibetan lama who has been instrumental in bringing the pure teaching of Buddha Dharma to the West, making it clear, and causing it to increase and flourish.
From the time of his own childhood, in Kham province, Tibet, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche had admired the Buddhist "monks in their maroon robes." At the age of eighteen, he left home to go to central Tibet where he entered the great Sera Monastery and began the twenty-four years of continuous study and personal hardship that would lead, in 1963, to the highest degree award of lharampa geshe.
At Sera, while attending classes with his gurus and memorizing large numbers of root texts and related commentaries, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche spent most of his days, and nights, engaged in debate, the Tibetan learning method for honing the intelligence and deepening understanding. He thoroughly mastered the traditional curriculum leading to the geshe degree: basic logic, mind and its functions, and logical reasoning (pramana); general study of the perfections (paramita); specific study of the nature of existence (madyamika); ethics (vinaya); phenomenology (abhidharma); review of ethics and phenomenology (karam geshe level); and final review of the the great treatises (lharam geshe level—only the two best students per year are awarded the title of lharampa geshe).
During this time Geshe Rabten Rinpoche also studied the graded path to the attainment of enlightenment via sutra practice and tantra. He has received many empowerments, first from the former incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche, and later from His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his Senior and Junior Tutors, the late Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, and many other lamas.
When, in 1969, a group of Westerners interested in Buddhism wanted teachings, His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to instruct them, as His Holiness knew Geshe-la would be able to present to these students such teachings as the four noble truths and the entire path to enlightenment, clearly and effectively.
Geshe Rabten Rinpoche remained in meditational retreat in the Indian Himalayas until 1974, when he went to Europe to conduct meditation courses. In 1975, at the request of his Western students, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent Geshe Rabten Rinpoche to Europe again, this time to give sustained teachings on the Buddha Dharma. And in 1979, the monastic institute, Tharpa Choeling, was established near Mt. Pelerin, above Lake Geneva in Switzerland. At Tharpa Choeling, a monastic education based on Geshe's own at Sera is available to serious Western students.
After Lord Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment he gave numerous sermons on the path to enlightenment, varying each teaching according to the mental state of the listener and the occasion. These teachings of the Compassionate One collected together comprise the three paths of Buddhism.
Among the vast quantity of Buddhist scriptures are oral and written teachings that have been passed on from Lord Buddha himself, through Maitreyanatha, Asanga, Atisha and other great gurus up to the venerable Tsongkhapa, in an unbroken line. These particular teaching traditions have been carried on by the great Tibetan teachers so that we fortunate practitioners today still have the chance to be guided by them. The Graduated Path to Liberation is an English rendition of oral instructions of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose being and teachings radiate both wisdom and compassion.
Concentration is important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for the practice of concentration is shi-nä (zhi-gNas). Shi means peace and nä means to dwell; shi-nä, then, is dwelling in peace or being without busyness.
If we do not carefully watch the mind it may seem that it is peaceful. However, when we really look inside we see that this is not so. Mind does not rest on the same object for even a single second. It flutters around like a banner flapping in the wind. No sooner does mind settle on one object than it is carried away by another. Even if we live in a cave on a high mountain the mind moves incessantly. When we are on the top of a tall city building we can look down and see how busy the city is, but when we are walking on the streets we are aware of only a fraction of the busyness. Similarly, if we do not investigate correctly we will never be aware of how busy the mind really is.
Primary consciousness itself is pure and stainless, but gathered around it are fifty-one secondary mental elements, some of which are positive, some negative and some neutral. Of these secondary elements, in ordinary beings, the negative ones are stronger than the positive. Most people never attempt to gain control of these secondary mental elements; if they did they would be amazed at how difficult such a task is. Because the negative elements have dominated the mind for countless lifetimes, overcoming them will require tremendous effort. Yet shi-nä cannot be experienced until they have been totally subdued.
Thus the busyness of the mind is mind-produced. This means that a mental rather than a physical effort is required to eliminate it. Nonetheless, when engaging in an intensive effort to develop shi-nä it is important to make use of certain secondary factors of a physical nature. For example, the place where one practises should be clean, quiet, close to nature and pleasing to the mind. And friends that visit should be peaceful and virtuous. One's body should be strong and free from disease.
The practice of concentration requires sitting in a proper posture, to which there are seven points:
Legs crossed and feet resting on the thighs, with soles turned upward. If this causes too much pain, it distracts from concentration. In which case, sit with the left foot tucked under the right thigh and the right foot resting on the left thigh.
The trunk set as straight and erect as possible.
Arms formed into a bow-shape, with elbows neither resting against the sides of the body nor protruding outward. The right hand rests in the left palm, with the thumbs touching lightly to form an oval.
The neck straight but slightly hooked, with the chin drawn in.
Eyes focused downward at the same angle as the line of the nose.
Mouth and lips relaxed, neither drooping nor shut tightly.
Tongue lightly held against the palate.
These are the seven points of the correct meditational posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path. Also, there is a practical purpose in each of the seven:
Having the feet crossed keeps the body in a locked position. One may eventually sit for a long period of time in meditation, even weeks or months in a single sitting. With legs locked, one will not fall over.
Holding the trunk straight allows maximum functioning of the channels carrying the vital energies throughout the body. The mind rides on these energy currents, so keeping the channels working well is very important to successful meditation.
The position of the arms also contributes to the flow of the energy currents.
The position of the neck keeps open the energy channels going to the head and prevents the neck from developing cramps.
If the eyes are cast at too high an angle the mind easily becomes agitated, if at too low an angle the mind quickly becomes drowsy.
The mouth and lips are held like this to stabilize the breath. If the mouth is held too tightly shut, breathing is obstructed whenever the nose congests. If the mouth is help open too widely, breathing becomes too strong, increasing the fire element and raising the blood pressure.
Holding tongue against the palate avoids an excessive build-up of saliva and keeps the throat from parching. Also, insects will not be able to enter the mouth or throat.
These are only the most obvious reasons for the seven points of the meditational posture. The secondary reasons are far too numerous to be dealt with here. It should be noted that the nature of the energy currents of some people does not permit them to use this position and they must be given an alternative. But this is very rare.
Although merely sitting in the vajra posture produces a good frame of mind, this is not enough. The main work, that done by the mind, has not yet even begun. The way to remove a thief who has entered a room is to go inside the house and throw him out, not to sit outside and shout at him. If we sit on top of a mountain and our mind constantly wanders down to the village below, little is achieved.
Concentration has two enemies, mental agitation, or busyness, and mental torpor, or numbness.
Generally, agitation arises from desire. An attractive object appears in the mind and the mind leaves the object of meditation to follow it.
Torpor arises from subtle apathy developing within the mind.
In order to have firm concentration these two obstacles must be eliminated. A man needs a candle in order to see a painting which is on the wall of a dark room. If there is a draught of wind the candle will flicker too much for the man to be able to see properly and if the candle is too small its flame will be too weak. When the flame of the mind is not obstructed by the wind of mental agitation and not weakened by the smallness of torpor it can concentrate properly upon the picture of the meditation object.
In the early stages of the practice of concentration mental agitation is more of a hindrance than torpor. The mind is continually flying away from the object of concentration. This can be seen by trying to keep the mind fixed on the memory of a face. The image of the face is soon replaced by something else.
Halting this process is difficult, for we have built the habit of succumbing to it over a long period of time and are not accustomed to concentration. To take up the new and leave behind the old is always hard. Yet, because concentration is fundamental to all forms of higher meditation and to all higher mental activity, one should make the effort.
Mental agitation is overcome principally by the force of mindfulness and torpor by attentive application. In the diagram representing the development of shi-nä there is an elephant. The elephant symbolizes the meditator's mind. Once an elephant is tamed, he never refuses to obey his master and he becomes capable of many kinds of work. The same applies to the mind. Furthermore, a wild and untamed elephant is dangerous, often causing terrible destruction. Just so, the untamed mind can cause any of the sufferings of the six realms.
At the bottom of the diagram depicting the development of concentration the elephant is totally black. This is because at the primary stage of the development of shi-nä mental torpor pervades the mind.
In front of the elephant is a monkey representing mental agitation. A monkey cannot keep still for a moment but is always chattering and fiddling with something, being attracted to everything.
The monkey is leading the elephant. At this stage of practice mental agitation leads the mind everywhere.
Behind the elephant trails the meditator, who is trying to gain control of the mind. In one hand he holds a rope, symbolic of mindfulness, and in the other he holds a hook, symbolic of alertness.
At this level the meditator has no control whatsoever over his mind. The elephant follows the monkey without paying the slightest attention to the meditator. In the second stage the meditator has almost caught up with the elephant.
In the third stage the meditator throws the rope over the elephant's neck. The elephant looks back, symbolizing that here the mind can be somewhat restrained by the power of mindfulness. At this stage a rabbit appears on the elephant's back. This is the rabbit of subtle mental torpor, which previously was too fine to be recognized but which now is obvious to the meditator.
In these early stages we have to apply the force of mindfulness more than the force of mental attentive application for agitation must be eliminated before torpor can be dealt with.
In the fourth stage the elephant is far more obedient. Only rarely does he have to be given the rope of mindfulness.
In the fifth stage the monkey follows behind the elephant, who submissively follows the rope and hook of the meditator. Mental agitation no longer heavily disturbs the mind.
In the sixth stage the elephant and monkey both follow meekly behind the meditator. The meditator no longer needs even to look back at them. He no longer has to focus his attention in order to control the mind. The rabbit has now disappeared.
In the seventh stage the elephant is left to follow of its own accord. The meditator does not have to give it either the rope of mindfulness or the hook of attentive application. The monkey of agitation has completely left the scene. Agitation and torpor never again occur in gross forms and even subtly only occasionally.
In the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white. He follows behind the man for the mind is now fully obedient. Nonetheless, some energy is still required in order to sustain concentration.
In the ninth stage the meditator sits in meditation and the elephant sleeps at his feet. The mind can now indulge in effortless concentration for long periods of time, even days, weeks or months.
These are the nine stages of the development of shi-nä. The tenth stage is the attainment of real shi-nä represented by the meditator calmly riding on the elephant's back.
Beyond this is an eleventh stage, in which the meditator is depicted as riding on the elephant, who is now walking in a different direction. The meditator holds a flaming sword. He has now entered into a new kind of meditation called vipasyana, or higher insight: (Tibetan: Lhag-mthong). This meditation is symbolized by his flaming sword, the sharp and penetrative implement that cuts through to realization of Voidness.
At various points in the diagram there is a fire. This fire represents the effort necessary to the practice of shi-nä. Each time the fire appears it is smaller than the previous time. Eventually it disappears. At each successive stage of development less energy is needed to sustain concentration and eventually no effort is required. The fire reappears at the eleventh stage, where the meditator has taken up meditation on voidness.
Also on the diagram are the images of food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume and a mirror. They symbolize the five sources of mental agitation, i.e. the five sensual objects: those of taste, touch, sound, smell and sight, respectively.
Most people take the mental image of a Buddha-form their object of concentration in order to develop shi-nä. First one must become thoroughly familiar with the object that one will focus on. This is done by sitting in front of a statue or drawing of the object for a few sessions and gazing at it. Then try sitting in meditation, holding the image of the form in mind without the aid of the statue or drawing. At first your visualization of it will not be very clear nor will you be able to hold if for more than a few seconds. Nonetheless, try to hold the image as clearly and for as long a period as possible. By persisting you will soon be able to retain the image for a minute, then two minutes and so forth. Each time the mind leaves the object apply mindfulness and bring it back. Meanwhile, continually maintain attentive application to see if unnoticed disturbances are arising.
Just as a man carrying a bowl full of water down a rough road has to keep one part of his mind on the water and another part on the road, in shi-nä practice one part of the mind must apply mindfulness to maintain steady concentration and another part must use attentive application to guard against disturbances. Later, when mental agitation has somewhat subsided, mindfulness will not have to be used very often. However, then the mind is fatigued from having fought agitation for so long and consequently torpor sets in.
Eventually, a stage comes when the meditator feels tremendous bliss and peace. This is actually only extremely subtle torpor but it is often mistakenly taken to be real shi-nä. With persistence, this too disappears. The mind gradually becomes more clear and fresh and the length of each meditation session correspondingly increases. At this point the body can be sustained entirely by the mind. One no longer craves food or drink. The meditator can now meditate for months without a break. Eventually he attains the ninth stage of shi-nä, at which level, the scriptures say, the meditator is not disturbed even if a wall collapses beside him. He continues to practice and feels a mental and physical pleasure totally beyond description, depicted in the diagram by a man flying. Here his body is inexhaustible and amazingly supple. His mind, deeply peaceful, can be turned to any object of meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The tenth stage of shi-nä—or actual shi-nä, is attained. When he meditates it is as though the mind and the object of meditation become one.
Now the meditator can look deeply into the nature of his object of meditation while holding all details of the object in his mind. This gives him extraordinary joy.
Here, looking into the nature of his object of meditation means that he examines it to see whether or not it is pure, whether or not it is permanent, what is its highest truth, etc. This is the meditation known as vipasyana, or higher insight. Through it the mind gains a deeper perception of the object than it could through concentration alone.
Merely having shi-nä gives tremendous spiritual satisfaction; but not going on to better things is like having built an aeroplane and then never flying it. Once concentration has been attained, the mind should he applied to higher practices. On the one hand it has to be used to overcome karma and mental distortion, and on the other hand to cultivate the qualities of a Buddha. In order to ultimately accomplish these goals, the object of meditation that it takes up must be voidness itself. Other forms of meditation are only to prepare the mind for approaching voidness. If you have a torch with the capacity to illuminate anything you should use it to find something important. The torch of shi-nä should be directed at realization of voidness for it is only a direct experience of voidness which pulls out the root of all suffering.
In the eleventh stage on the diagram two black lines flow out of the meditator's heart. One of these represents klesavarana, the obscurations of karma and mental distortion. The other represents jneyavarana, the obscurations of the instincts of mental distortion. The meditator holds the wisdom-sword of vipasyana meditation, with which he plans to sever these two lines.
Once a practitioner has come close to understanding voidness he is on his way to the perfection of wisdom. Prajna-paramita, the ultimate goal of the development of concentration.
The Guru Yoga of Tushita’s Deva Host (Bla-ma’i-rnal-‘byor-dga’-ldan-lha-brgya-ma)
Today the teaching will be a brief discourse on the practice of guru yoga called Gan dän lha gyäi ma. Both Gan dän lha gyäi ma and the Guru Puja are guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa. The only difference between them is in the elaboration of the words. In meaning they are exactly the same.
The qualities we need to develop most are wisdom, compassion and power. The practice of this guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa is the best method to accomplish all three. Through the practice of this guru yoga we can accomplish these three attributes of the Buddha, particularly his wisdom. Since you have all come here with the will to practice guru yoga, if you listen carefully and practice every day it will be very beneficial for you.
In ultimate nature, Lama Tsongkhapa is form combined with the wisdom, power and compassion of every buddha. When Lama Tsongkhapa manifests in the wrathful form of a Highest Yoga Tantra deity, it is Yamantaka. When he appears in the peaceful form of a bodhisattva, a buddha, it is Manjushri. When he appears in the form of a human being as a master guru of many sentient beings, it is Lama Tsongkhapa. What we see on the altar is a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa.
The full life story of Lama Tsongkhapa is beyond explanation. It comes in such a big volume that it cannot be finished in a few hours. Also it is not necessary at this time to give you a full biography of Lama Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa is one with Manjushri. Therefore, the actual nature, the essential nature of Lama Tsongkhapa is the wisdom attribute of the Buddha. There are various ways of accomplishing and increasing wisdom. But this method, the practice of guru yoga in connection with Guru Manjushri is the best method. It is the supreme method for the accomplishment of wisdom.
Many people think that this planet on which we live, this small Earth, is the only world, the center of the universe or the only world with beings. People may think this, but it’s not right. There are countless worlds smaller and larger than this; countless realms of beings other than this Earth on which we live. There are countless impure realms like this one, where beings are endowed with suffering; completely oppressed with suffering, karma and delusion and so forth. There are countless such worlds in the universe and also there are countless pure worlds, pure realms where beings are free from this kind of suffering.
Among these pure realms, the Buddha Heavenly Abode of Tushita is one of such pure realms where beings are separate from all the gross forms of suffering and their cause and even the word suffering does not exist. But it is not the Tushita that is a few yards away [Lama Yeshe’s Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala]. Generally speaking, Tushita is a deva realm. There are many different deva worlds and ordinary Tushita is one of the deva worlds. Tushita Buddha Abode belongs to and is part of the ordinary Tushita deva land but it is separate and much higher—in reality and in essence.
It is in the higher realms of this Tushita of which we are speaking—the one that is separate from the ordinary deva land Tushita—that buddhas, bodhisattvas and many other beings live. They are all completely free from suffering. Of course, the buddhas are completely free from suffering, but even the bodhisattvas and other unenlightened beings are much higher and free from these gross obstacles. By the blessing of the environment itself it is easy for these beings to practice Dharma and to progress and develop their minds. Here, virtuous qualities of mind such as compassion, love and so forth are easy to generate and increase. So, it is a purely heavenly abode where the beings are free from all obstacles and suffering and endowed with everything necessary for spiritual development.
Also the qualities of the Tushita pure land, such as the beautiful flowers, lakes, mountains and so forth there, are not just ordinary substantial phenomena, but manifestations of the buddha mind, reflections of the great beings who live there. The qualities of this abode are beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings. Even the sound of the leaves blown by the wind gives teachings on emptiness, bodhicitta and so forth, and the songs of the beautiful birds in the trees are also Dharma teachings.
From here, in India, the direction of Tushita is to the north, high above us in space. At present, the lord of this abode is Buddha Maitreya. [Geshe Rabten points to his altar.] That painting up there is one form of Buddha Maitreya and that little statue to the left side of Lama Tsongkhapa is Maitreya Buddha. Buddha Maitreya is the lord of this abode Tushita but is not like a worldly lord, like a king or ruler of a country. He is the lama, the master of all those bodhisattvas and other beings who live in this world. He is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the sake of the beings who live in Tushita and the other bodhisattvas who come there from other worlds to receive the nectar of Buddha Maitreya’s teachings.
At present in this world in which we live, the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni is still flourishing. But this will gradually degenerate and completely end, after which a new era of Dharma will start. That will begin by Buddha Maitreya appearing in this world. Lama Tsongkhapa is, in one way, as I explained before, the combined form of all the attributes of Buddha Maitreya in nature. But at present, he is in Tushita in the form of a bodhisattva called Jampel Nyingpo, remaining there in that form as a chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. Also, Lama Atisha is also there place in the form of a bodhisattva called Namkha Trimame, another chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. But although Lama Sumati Kirti [Losang Dragpa, that is, Lama Tsongkhapa] is in Tushita at the feet of Buddha Maitreya, as disciple, as prince of the devas there, other manifestations of him are also in many different forms in many different worlds. Even in this world, there are countless forms of Lama Sumati Kirti helping sentient beings. There are many scriptural sources, stories and reasons to prove that Lama Tsongkhapa is presently with Buddha Maitreya, but I won’t explain them at this time as it would take too long.
Practicing the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa is of great benefit because it establishes a great relationship with Lama Tsongkhapa, Manjushri and Buddha Maitreya as well. It becomes a preparation for us to be able to reincarnate at the feet of Buddha Maitreya when our present life ends and continue towards accomplishing our goal in Tushita.
When practicing this guru yoga, we invite, or invoke, Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. I will explain from the beginning what we must do in this guru yoga, including the preparation.
To practice this guru yoga you should first clean your place, the environment in which you are going to meditate. Then, if you have a thangka, statue or picture of Lama Tsongkhapa to serve as a base, or an object, of your meditation, that would be highly beneficial. At the front of that you should arrange all your offerings nicely; place everything in a pure, proper and correct way…the water offering, flowers, incense, light, fruit and so forth.
Then sit facing the altar and begin your practice by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from Tushita from the heart of Buddha Maitreya and then make the offerings, prostrations and the following limbs.
However, it is not enough just to invite the deity; you must also make certain preparations from within yourself. The best such preparation is to take refuge in the Triple Gem and generate bodhicitta.
Kön chhog sum la kyab su dro
Sem chän tham chä dag gi dröl
Jang chhub nä la gö par gyi
Jang chhub sem ni yang dag kye
I go to the Triple Gem for refuge
I will liberate all sentient beings
And lead them to (or establish them in) the stage of bodhi (full enlightenment)
I will perfectly generate bodhicitta
I will not explain refuge and bodhicitta in detail because I have already explained these in previous teachings.
First we take refuge in the Triple Gem. After taking refuge, what we wish and are willing to do is liberate all sentient beings from all suffering. Therefore, the second line is, “I will liberate all sentient beings.” By liberating all sentient beings from suffering, then where will we lead them; to what kind of stage? It is to liberation, or nirvana, that we wish to lead them. This nirvana is not the ordinary nirvana of the arhats but the ultimate bodhi stage of buddhahood. Therefore, the third line is:
And for that purpose, to liberate sentient beings from suffering and lead them to the stage of enlightenment, then what I want to do, what I am going to do, comes in the next line:
We should recite the above verse three times, not only repeating the words but contemplating the meaning deeply.
After this comes another verse blessing the place or the environment:
Tham chä du ni sa zhi dag
Seg ma la sog me pa dang
Lag thil tar nyam bäiduryäi
Rang zhin jam por nä gyur chig
Everywhere may the ground be pure,
Free of the roughness of pebbles and so forth
May it be in the nature of lapis lazuli
And as smooth as the palm of one’s hand
That is the blessing of the ground, the place where you are meditating. Then there follows another verse to bless the offerings:
Lha dang mi yi chhö päi dzä
Ngö su sham dang yi kyi trül
Kün zang chhö trin la na me
Nam khäi kham kün khyab gyur chig
May human and divine offerings
Actually arranged and mentally created
Clouds of finest Samantabhadra offerings
Fill the entirety of space
There are two purposes of meditation. One is to purify all obstacles and interferences; the other is to grow and develop all the inner qualities. Blessing of the environment—preparing the pure ground, or place, for your meditation—symbolizes purification of the obstacles, all inner roughness. Making infinite offerings to the buddhas symbolizes infinite development of all inner qualities and richnesses.
Now, the actual visualization of this guru yoga will be explained according to this illustration. If you can find such a picture it will be beneficial. The place above Lama Tsongkhapa is the Tushita abode, the abode of Buddha Maitreya. The actuality of this abode is beyond painting or drawing, but to symbolize this actuality we see some radiance, clouds and things like that around the palace. The Tushita pure land is not dependent on the light of the sun or moon. It does not have to be illuminated by some other astrological body; it is illuminated by the radiance of the beings that live there.
The central figure in Tushita is Buddha Maitreya. He is shown demonstrating the Dharmachakra mudra, the gesture of turning the wheel of Dharma. He is not sitting cross legged but on a chair. The significance of this special position is that it shows that he is prepared to get up soon—he is not fully relaxed, settled or firmly seated; he is just about to get up and come into this world as the successor of Buddha Shakyamuni. Showing the Dharmachakra mudra means that he is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings, now and also after life in this world.
There are also some other smaller figures to each side of Maitreya Buddha: Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa’s Nyingma lama, Lhodrag Namkha Gyeltsen. These are the chief disciples and there is also a great assembly of bodhisattvas and many other beings surrounding Buddha Maitreya, receiving Mahayana teachings from him.
After taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, purifying the place, blessing the offerings and so forth, we begin the actual guru yoga by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya.
Gan dän lha gyäi gön gyi thug ka nä
Rab kar zho sar pung träi chhu dzin tser
Chhö kyi gyäl po kün khyen lo zang drag
Sä d’ang chä pa nä dir sheg su söl
You who emanate from the heart of the savior of the hundred devas’ Joyful Realm
On the peak of a cloud (water holder) resembling clumps of extremely fresh white curd
The king of Dharma, omniscience Losang Dragpa, with your sons:
I request you to come to this place
This is the invitation. Ganden is Tushita in Tibetan and lha gyä literally means the hundred devas of Tushita, “hundred” being not literal but meaning very many buddhas and bodhisattvas. Gön means lord, or savior. So, the one who is the lord of the hundred devas of Tushita is Maitreya Buddha, who is lord not in the sense of a worldly lord leading a country but in the sense of being the spiritual master, leader or guide of all those beings.
When we meditate here, it’s not that we are inviting Lama Tsongkhapa with strong devotion but up there, Buddha Maitreya and the others are paying no attention to us and just keeping themselves busy with whatever they’re doing. It’s not like that. The way we should meditate is that they are all paying full attention to us, completely involved with what we’re doing. All the bodhisattvas, and Buddha Maitreya in particular, are looking directly down at us with radiant smiles, with much affection and love, looking at us, ready to help.
Thug ka nä means from the heart. This is where Lama Tsongkhapa comes out from. First a pure white radiant cloud, which is in the nature of compassion, emanates from Buddha Maitreya’s heart, or holy mind—the love that Buddha Maitreya has for the sentient beings of this world. It is not just an ordinary cloud but one with deep meaning, symbolizing the purity and perfection of his great compassion. It should be as white and radiant as possible and very thick, like a heap of fresh, white curd. The thickness of the cloud symbolizes Buddha Maitreya’s strong love and compassion for sentient beings. It springs out and rolls down and remains there in front of us. If you meditate and practice seriously, you sit quietly in your room, read the words slowly, then visualize as clearly as possible with all your effort. The cloud rolls down and stops in front of you. At its end there is a large heap of cloud. This is like preparing the way and the seat.
In front of you there are three big heaps of clouds. On the central cluster is a golden throne decorated with precious stones. To each side of it there is a lower, smaller throne. The golden throne is supported by eight lions and on it are a lotus and a moon disk. Then, after visualizing this cloud, when we recite the last two lines of this verse, Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, or spiritual sons—Gyältsab Rinpoche and Khädrub Rinpoche—emanate from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas; Gyältsab Rinpoche is an emanation of the compassion of Maitreya; and Khädrub Rinpoche is an emanation of the power of Maitreya. These three, master and spiritual sons, come down on the white cloud. They spring forth instantly and come down effortlessly, without any difficulty, like being completely tired after a long journey with heavy luggage on their backs; not like that. They come down instantly, suddenly; spontaneously. Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief spiritual sons are one in nature, but when the compassion of Lama Tsongkhapa takes form it is on his right side as Gyältsab Rinpoche and when his power takes form it is on his left side as Khädrub Rinpoche. But all three are one in nature. Therefore, when we practice this kind of guru yoga it helps us accomplish all three attributes of the Buddha: wisdom, power and compassion.
Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma not because he is some great monarch who rules over many subjects but because he is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas. Fully accomplished wisdom is that which rules over all of Dharma. Therefore, Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma. It is similar when he is called omniscient. In Tibetan, kün khyen means one who knows all—because Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all buddhas, he is omniscient. Nothing is hidden from the Buddha mind. Losang Dragpa (Skt: Sumati Kirti) is his human name, his Dharma name as a human being. So, we are requesting the assembly of all three, master and spiritual sons, to come down and remain in front of us.
The actual way to accomplish wisdom, the method to employ, comes at the end of this guru yoga, where the guru mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa is recited.
Requesting to have a stable life
This second verse is the request to always remain in front of us.
Dün gyi nam khar seng thri pä däi teng
Je tsün la ma gye päi dzum kar chän
Dag lo dä päi sö nam zhing chhog tu
Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl
In the sky before me, on a lion throne, lotus and moon disk,
The jetsun lama smiles with delight.
Supreme field of the merit of mind’s devotion,
I beg you to abide for a hundred eons to increase the teachings.
Dün gyi nam khar means in the sky, or space, in front of us—about two meters; not too high, not too low, but about the level of our forehead. At that spot there is the heap of cloud, which is in three parts, as explained before. On the center one is the golden throne with lotus and moon disk. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa. On each side of the main throne are two smaller golden ones, also with lotus and moon disks, on which are seated the two chief disciples.
These golden thrones are supported by lions. Actually, they are lions in appearance, but in nature they have the quality of the enlightened mind. Among animals, the lion is king; the victorious one who is not afraid of any other animal. The throne of the lama is supported by four lions, which symbolize the four great qualities of the buddha mind called the four fearlessnesses.
On each golden throne supported by four lions is first a lotus disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished renunciation. On top of that is a moon disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished bodhicitta. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa, who himself is in the nature of wisdom, the fully accomplished right view of shunyata. Thus, these three—lotus, moon and lama—symbolize the three principal aspects of the path.
The words in this practice are very simple and easy to read but have extremely profound meanings. Just the words je-tsün lama are highly significant. Je signifies the path in common with the small scope; tsün signifies the path in common with the medium scope; lama signifies the path of high scope. Lama Tsongkhapa, by practicing all these three stages of the path and gradually accomplishing them, finally accomplished the state of buddhahood.
Gye päi dzum kar chän means smiles radiantly with delight, with a radiant delightful smile, which means that Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, the three lamas, are looking down on us, not in an unhappy or displeased way but in a radiantly smiling way full of compassion, love and affection. The way the lamas look at us delightedly rather than unhappily is an auspicious preparation for our always being able to please our lamas and never disappoint them and have a close relationship with them.
Dag lo dä päi means the faith and devotion of our mind; expressing the strong faith in and devotion to our lama in our mind. Out of strong devotion we want to accumulate great merit in connection with our lama. The supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion is the lama, therefore, we request Lama Tsongkhapa to always remain so that we can create merit in the highest possible way.
Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl. Apart from acting as the supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion, there’s another reason for asking the lama to abide, which is for the dissemination, or flourishing, of the Dharma in the ten directions. For that purpose we also request you, the jetsun lama, to remain for a hundred eons (Skt: kalpa).
Since the flourishing of the Dharma and the happiness of sentient beings is the supreme request, there is no request superior to it, therefore, in this particular practice, it is placed here first. Generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs. But here, because it is such an important request, it is explained first of all.
As I explained before, the most important object—the Triple Lama—is visualized front and center, but also, all of space surrounding the lamas is filled with clouds of offerings, as we visualized at the beginning. So, when meditating on this, we visualize in space many offering deities—many offering gods and goddesses holding various offering objects—on the clouds to either side and above the three lamas.
She jäi khyön kün jäl wäi lo drö thug
Käl zang na wäi gyän gyur leg shä sung
Drag päi päl gyi lham mer dze päi ku
Thong thö drän pä dön dän la chhag tshäl
Your holy mind understands the full extent of objects to be known.
Your eloquent speech is the ear-ornament of the fortunate ones.
Your holy body is glowing and glorious with fame.
To you, who is meaningful to see, hear and remember, I prostrate.
Next, following the usual order of the seven limb puja, which here we are offering to Lama Tsongkhapa, comes the limb of prostration. We prostrate to the lama by expressing the qualities of his body, speech and mind. Usually when we prostrate to and praise the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, we do it in that order—body, speech and mind—but in this guru yoga, mind comes first, then speech, then body.
We start with mind instead of body because in essence, Lama Tsongkhapa is, in nature, the wisdom of the Buddha; wisdom is the essential aspect of the enlightened mind. Therefore, instead of body, we first praise the buddha mind, the mental quality of the Buddha, of the lama. She jäi khyön kün means the entire extent of knowable objects, everything that exists; jäl wäi means to realize or cognize. So the entire extent of knowable phenomena is realized or cognized by what power? It is realized by the power of the buddha mind, the omniscient mind of the lama.
The second line of this verse praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy speech. Käl zang na wäi means the ear of the fortunate ones, those who have received the opportunity to practice Dharma in general and the Mahayana in particular. People who have the great fortune of following and practicing the Mahayana Dharma are the most fortunate ones. This ear ornament, gyän gyur, is not an ornament like the earrings Indian women wear. The true ear ornament of the fortunate is not material but is the eloquent speech, leg shä sung, the teaching of the Buddha that is well explained, vast and profound. This is the true ear ornament of the fortunate.
When the fortunate ones, those who practice the Mahayana Dharma, hear a teaching of the vast and profound Buddhadharma, it pleases their ear sense. Therefore, it is called an ear ornament. If that’s true for the Mahayana in general, what need is there to specify the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa? They are unbelievably deep, profound, vast and clear; not indecisive, but extremely decisive and definite. They dig the depths of the Buddha’s teachings and make them clear. In Tibet, the Dharma masters used to say that if you’re undecided about the meaning of a teaching, look to the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, because they are so decisive.
The next line praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy body. Because of his omniscient mind and eloquent speech, as explained before, he became extremely famous in the Land of Snows, Tibet, for the glory of his being. Everybody praised him.
Since Lama Tsongkhapa came along later, he did not go to India to receive teachings from the Indian masters, but there’s not a single part of all hundred volumes of teachings of the Buddha in the Kangyur that Lama Tsongkhapa didn’t study and learn. There’s no way to explain in just a few words Lama Tsongkhapa’s qualities. If you are interested you can read his extensive biography, which explains in his life in great detail.
Not only was Lama Tsongkhapa extremely learned in all the texts but he was also highly realized, having gained many great inner experiences through the practice of tantra. If you are really interested, you can read another biography called In Praise of the Sacred Life: the Story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which makes all this very clear. If you can receive teachings on that text it will be evident. What I am giving here is just a very simple introduction. If you want to know these things more deeply, you’ll need to receive teachings particularly on his life.
So, drag päi päl means the glory of fame and lham mer dze päi ku means resplendent form, or that merely his appearance is very powerful and glorious. Just by his appearance he overshadows or overpowers all those who see the manifestation of his form. This power of his appearance is not external power; it is inner power. Through his inner realizations, his inner power, his appearance becomes so powerful to sentient beings that it completely releases them from their life sufferings.
His power not being external means that he has no high rank, social status or external superiority. As you probably know, Lama Tsongkhapa was born in Amdo in East Tibet in a poor family. In the same way that many students came from far eastern Tibet in those days—begging for food along the way and carrying their bedding and other small things on their back on a bamboo frame—Lama Tsongkhapa himself also traveled alone to Lhasa, in central Tibet. It took him about six or seven months. Once there, he met many great masters and not only put great effort into studying all the teachings of the Buddha, but he also meditated on them, realized their profound meaning, and became so glorious that he became like the sun, completely illuminating the whole of Tibet with the light of Dharma. There are many other things like this that could be explained, but we don’t have enough time to go into them now.
The fourth line of this verse tells us that because Lama Tsongkhapa is endowed with such a body, speech and mind, to see his physical manifestation, to hear his name or about his life or to listen to his teachings, and to remember him from our mind becomes beneficial, worthwhile and very fruitful for us. Of course we have to prostrate to the lamas, but first we should know the reason for doing so. If we don’t know why we are prostrating, then even if we do bow down, it won’t become particularly beneficial or be sensible to do so. When we bow down to someone, we need to know the qualities of the object of prostration to make it meaningful. Therefore, this brief explanation of Lama Tsongkhapa’s body, speech and mind are explained. The purpose of prostration is to express our respect and to accumulate merit; this is enhanced by knowing the details of the life and qualities of the object of prostration. Prostration is also an antidote to pride.
After prostration, the next limb is offering. The material offerings you are making should already have been placed on your altar before beginning the puja. The offering limb comes in these lines:
Yi wong chhö yön na tshog me tog dang
Dri zhim dug pö nang säl dri chhab sog
Ngo sham yi trül chhö trin gya tsho di
Sö nam zhing chhog khyö la chhö par bül
Beautiful drinking water, various arranged flowers,
Fragrant incense, light, scented water and so forth;
Actually performed and mentally transformed oceans of clouds of offerings
I offer to you, the supreme field of merit.
Yi wong means pleasing. That means the offerings should be pure, clean and good in appearance. Making an offering that doesn’t even please ourselves is not at all good for the accumulation of merit. Yi wong chhö yön actually means pleasing water offerings, but it doesn’t have to be only water. We can also offer tea, milk, yogurt or any other kind of liquid. However, in this practice it is not right to offer wine, beer, spirits and so forth because Lama Tsongkhapa was a bhikshu. Na tshog me tog means various flowers, many, many different kinds of flowers, some as individual stems, some as garlands and some as flowers for house decoration. There are many different ways to offer flowers. If we can get actual flowers we should offer them by placing them at the front of the altar, but if we can’t, we still have the right to offer all the flowers growing wild in fields and on mountains and cultivated flowers in people’s gardens and in the park. You can offer all these beautiful flowers mentally and make an immense offering of them to the lamas.
The next line talks about offering incense and so forth. We should offer incense that smells good, but the fragrant incense and scented water we offer should be natural and pure, like from sandalwood and flowers, not chemical perfumes and powders or the smell of soap or anything like that. If such natural fragrances are not available we can create them in our mind. Visualize that all of space, the whole environment, is filled with the fragrance of flowers, sandalwood and so forth. Dri zhim dug pö is fragrant incense and nang säl is light.
The light we offer is not only that of butter lamps, candles and so forth—whatever’s on your altar—but also the light of the sun and the moon. You can even offer the electric lights of cities and so forth. Basically, we offer whatever helps illuminate darkness. In the West, big parks, for example, are very beautiful at night, with all their light displays. All these beautiful appearances we take not for ourselves, for our own pleasure, but in order to make an offering of them to the lama. Take it mentally and, in this case, offer it to please Lama Tsongkhapa.
Dri chhab is scented water. This scented water is also natural: sandalwood water, rose water, saffron water and so forth. It is not artificial perfume. If we have this kind of natural scented water we put it in a cup or bowl and offer it. Although it is meant for the body of the lama, we don’t pour it onto the pictures or statues because it might damage them. Sog means and so forth or the like. Here, sog includes the food offerings, the music offerings, and all the other offerings, such as garments etc. These are explained in detail in the offering part of the Bodhicaryavatara.
In the next line, ngö sham means actually arranged, or performed, and refers to those few offerings that we have put on the altar. But we have to offer much more than that. Thus we have yi trül, which means manifested from or created by the mind, a huge collection of offerings that fills all of space. All these vast clouds (chhö trin) of offerings are like an ocean (gya tsho)—in other words, very many.
The last line of this verse refers to the fact that in order to attain buddhahood we need to accumulate vast stores of merit and the best means of doing this is with our guru, our lama; here, Lama Tsongkhapa who is, in essence, our own root guru. There is nothing superior to this, therefore he is referred to as the supreme field of merit, sö nam shing chhog. For example, by sowing grape seeds in a field we obtain a great crop of grapes. Similarly, by accumulating merit in relation to the supreme field of the guru, we obtain the greatest of all results, the supreme fruit of buddhahood. In this way, the lama is also a field that yields fruit, but the fruit we obtain is the supreme fruit, the ultimate goal, therefore the lama is referred to as the supreme field, very different from an ordinary, worldly field.
The next verse is the limb of confession. Here we confess all our downfalls, all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated, in front of Lama Tsongkhapa. This comes in these lines:
Gang zhig thog me dü nä sag pa yi
Lü ngag yi kyi mi ge chi gyi dang
Khyä par dom pa sum gyi mi thün chhog
Nying nä gyö pä drag pö so sor shag
Whatever non-virtues of body, speech and mind,
And especially, actions opposite to the three vows
That I have created from beginningless time,
From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.
The first line is different in some texts, where it is dag gi thog me instead of gang zhig thog me but it means more or less the same thing. Dag gi is actually clearer than gang zhig. Gang zhig refers to the actual downfall itself whereas dag gi means “by me,” the one who actually accumulated these downfalls.
There can be another difference in some texts, where it says lü ngag yi sum, which means “by the three doors of body, speech and mind,” instead of lü ngag yi kyi, which means simply “by body, speech and mind.” It can be either way; it doesn’t really matter.
Thog me dü nä means from beginningless time. All the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in the past up to now, from time immemorial up to this moment, all that we have done in the past…this is what it means. What we have accumulated from time immemorial are so many non-virtuous actions—killing and so forth—by body. We have also accumulated countless non-virtuous actions of speech, such as lying. And by mind, we have created even more. To be very precise, we can say that almost every thought we have had has been non-virtuous. That is how much non-virtue we have accumulated through our mind.
We don’t remember most of the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in this life, but we should at least be able to remember the gross ones, the most important ones. But while we can be fairly sure of the major negativities we have created in this life, we might have some doubt about the non-virtues that we have accumulated in our past lives. However, we can see that we have a natural tendency to accumulate non-virtuous actions—nobody has to teach us and we don’t have to make any effort to learn them. Very naturally and spontaneously we accumulate many non-virtuous actions. This inherent tendency to create non-virtuous actions in this life is the fruit of past non-virtues, a clear sign of the great acquaintance we developed with non-virtuous actions in past lives.
For example, when actors or dancers they develop acquaintance with their parts and moves they become so accustomed to what they’re doing that their performances become very natural and spontaneous. They don’t have to think about what they’re doing at all. Every movement of their body, every song, comes without effort. Simultaneously, our present spontaneous tendency to create non-virtuous actions is the best proof of the existence of past lives and the accumulation of non-virtuous actions in those lives as well.
The next line says, “And especially, actions opposite to the three vows.” In other words, in addition to all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in general, we also have some extra ones that we have accumulated in connection with the various vows we have taken. Most of us have taken all different kinds of pratimoksha vows: upasaka/upasika,shramanera/shramanerika and bhikshu/bhikshuni vows. In addition to those, many of us have also taken tantric initiations in which we have received bodhisattva and tantric vows. Anyway, each of us should know what vows we have taken. However, more—far more—than the number of vows we have taken, are the transgressions of those vows that we have accumulated; so many that they completely pour over us like monsoon rain. If we look at our daily life very precisely—for example, if we look honestly at what we have done from this morning up to this moment—we’ll find that even in this very short period we have already accumulated many transgressions of our pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows.
The final line of this verse reads, “From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.” Nying nä means from the heart. Gyö pä drag pö means with very strong repentance. This means that simply uttering a few words while feeling nothing in our heart is not confession; this does not help us purify our non-virtuous actions. We need to confess non-virtuous actions with strong repentance from the depths of our heart. So sor shag has two different meanings: one is the confession of each negative action individually, one by one; the other is to confess again and again. So sor can be interpreted either way; however, interpreting it as again and again is deeper, more beneficial. It is not enough for us to confess our non-virtuous actions just once. We need to remember and confess them again and again.
Nyig mäi dü dir mang thö drub la tsön
Chhö gyä pang pä däl jor dön yö je
Gön po khyö kyi lab chhen dzä pa la
Dag chag sam pa thag pä yi rang ngo
In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations,
And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth
By renouncing the eight worldly dharmas.
In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.
This is a time of degeneration of the Dharma. The great bodhisattvas and others who practice bodhicitta purposely take birth among sentient beings in such degenerate periods in order to help when it is really needed. The time of Lama Tsongkhapa’s birth was also during this period of the five degenerations, when
1. Beings’ lives are short;
2. There is much fighting and trouble among sentient beings;
3. Delusions are very strong and manifest grossly;
4. Wrong views about Dharma, karma and so forth abound among sentient beings; and
5. All energy, possessions and material power are deteriorating.
So, Lama Tsongkhapa appeared at a time when these five signs were flourishing. He was greatly learned and knew all the texts from India as well as their Tibetan commentaries. He had studied all Nyingma, Kagyü, Kadam and Sakya lineages and received all the practices and teachings of the different traditions. It is very beneficial to study his life.
Mang thö means he had much learning and drub la tsön means he made a great effort to practice. Lama Manjushri appeared to Lama Tsongkhapa and urged him to meditate, so he went directly to meditate as soon as possible. Some people may think that because Lama Tsongkhapa was a great guru and a famous master that he was of high rank and had many luxuries and things like that, but that’s not at all how it was. He didn’t lead that kind of life.
When he and his eight chief disciples left for meditation they went as hermits, without any belongings or possessions. Before they left for retreat Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples collected everything that they had except their robes and monk’s bowls and sold them to use whatever money they got for offerings. Even so, they had very little money, just a few Tibetan tsang, which is like a few rupees. So, they made offerings by selling their possessions, then left completely for meditation.
First they put much energy into their preliminary practices, living on the mountain, each of them in a different cave. Lama Tsongkhapa himself put great effort into his preliminary practices because they are the foundation of all spiritual development. For example, he made so many mandala offerings using a flat piece of stone as a mandala base that his arm became so calloused that it was almost like a horn. Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples sacrificed all worldly pleasures such as good food and so forth to live a very simple, meditative life. Some of them even fasted, living on just a few juniper seeds a day. They meditated with great effort for many years until each accomplished the goal of his meditation. Some accomplished the different tantric deities and received direct instructions from them, direct visions and so forth. Many of these deeds are in Lama Tsongkhapa’s great life story, but many are in the secret, tantric, life story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which is a separate text. It is not very long, so it would be excellent if you were to receive teachings on that. So that is the meaning of the line, “In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations.”
The next two lines say, “And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth by renouncing the eight worldly concerns.” Chhö gyä means eight dharmas; in other words, the eight worldly dharmas.
The first of these eight worldly dharmas is yearning for the pleasure and happiness of this life only. The second is yearning for praise. When someone praises us we enjoy it very much, so we’re always craving praise from others. The third is yearning for favorable speech, words. We are always seeking for something good, something nice and sweet to hear. The fourth worldly dharma is yearning for material gain in this lifetime—food, clothing, money and so forth.
The fifth worldly dharma is aversion to the suffering of this lifetime. The sixth is aversion to criticism and blame. The seventh is aversion to hearing unpleasant things, the opposite of yearning for pleasant words; a dislike of unpleasant words. And finally, the eighth worldly dharma is aversion to not getting material things.
Thus you can see that in the eight worldly dharmas there are four that we always seek out and four that we always wish to be separated from. They are called worldly dharmas because they are the principles of worldly people, those who do not practice Dharma at all or who do not practice it purely, beings whose whole lives are completely spent and sacrificed for gaining the first four and abandoning the second four. We are completely deceived by these eight worldly principles. They take us away from the true practice of Dharma. Not only do they interfere with our practice of Dharma but they also cause us much trouble and suffering.
All the fighting, death and other sufferings in the life of a worldly person are because of these eight worldly dharmas. From a quarrel between two or four people up to a war between great nations, all is for the purpose of the eight worldly dharmas. Although these eight worldly dharmas interfere with our practice of Dharma and cause us much trouble and suffering, if they didn’t always force us to accumulate non-virtuous actions, they might not be so bad, but the fact is that all the non-virtuous actions that we accumulate individually or in common, from childhood all the way through our entire life, are all incurred through our pursuit of the eight worldly dharmas.
Therefore, these eight worldly dharmas that give us so much trouble are completely unworthy of the attachment we have for them. They are deeply wrong for us to be involved in. But out of ignorance, we worldly beings, not knowing this, get purposely, voluntarily and completely involved in them. True practitioners of Dharma totally renounce the eight worldly dharmas and practice everything that is their opposite. All the great gurus of the past, such as Jetsun Milarepa and Lama Tsongkhapa, renounced the eight worldly dharmas, fought against them with all their might and gained victory over them.
Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Even from childhood I had a spontaneous tendency to be afraid whenever somebody offered me something or prepared a high seat for me, because I realized that all worldly gains are deeply impermanent.” So, chhö gyä pang pä means by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas. Däl jor dön yö je means making this perfect human rebirth meaningful and worthwhile: by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas he made the precious human life that he had obtained worthwhile and fruitful. Lama Tsongkhapa never wasted even a second of his precious life.
The next two lines read, “In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.” Gön po khyö kyi means you, the savior. Lab chhen dzä pa la means in the great wave of your deeds, the vast and profound deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, I rejoice from the depths of my heart.
Dag chag means I or we; sam pa thag pä means from the depths of our thought or mind; yi rang ngo means rejoice. All together, it means that we rejoice in the great, extensive deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, not just paying lip service to them but we rejoice from the depths of our heart, from deep within our mind.
Rejoicing is the supreme practice for accumulating merit. Rejoicing counteracts all delusions in general but it is the direct antidote of jealousy in particular. Jealousy toward the goodness and practice of other beings causes our merit and development to degenerate. Rejoicing in the goodness and precious deeds of other sentient beings doesn’t take much effort but accumulates vast amounts merit. In other words, they put much effort into practicing Dharma but simply by rejoicing in their practice, we can create much merit for ourselves.
Requesting to turn the wheel of Dharma
The next verse is a request for the turning of the wheel of the Dharma, a request for teachings.
Je tsün la ma dam pa khye nam kyi
Chhö küi kha la khyen tsei trin thrig nä
Ji tar tsham päi dül jäi dzin ma la
Zab gyä chhö kyi chhar pa bab tu söl
Please, holy jetsun gurus,
From billowed clouds of compassion and wisdom in the sky of dharmakaya,
Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable
For the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.
Je tsün la ma means venerable lama. I explained the meaning of that in Verse 2. Dam pa means holy, or supreme; the supreme guru. Lama Tsongkhapa has given us all the methods and prerequisites that gradually lead us to the attainment of the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Therefore, he is the supreme lama. Khye nam kyi means by you.
The next line says that all of space of dharmakaya is filled with the clouds of wisdom and love. Chhö ku means dharmakaya; kha la means space. Because Lama Tsongkhapa is a buddha, his mind is in the nature of the dharmakaya; his mind resembles space, infinite space. Gathering in this space of Lama Tsongkhapa’s dharmakaya mind are clouds of wisdom and compassion, from which falls rain. Khyen means wisdom; tsei means love and bodhicitta—the method side qualities of mind. Trin thrig nä means by gathering the clouds.
The next lines say, “Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable for the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.”
Ji tar tsham päi means fittingly, or whatever is suitable. We are requesting the lama to turn the wheel of Dharma, to give teachings in a way that fits, or suits, the capacity of the sentient beings. This has a deep meaning. For example, a wise doctor gives medicine to different patients according to the strength of their body. A doctor does not prescribe strong medicine for a person who is very weak because the patient’s body cannot support it; therefore the doctor prescribes a milder medicine; for patients with stronger bodies the doctor prescribes stronger remedies. Like this, in a fitting way, the doctor writes the prescription. A doctor just thinking, “I have this really strong medicine,” and then immediately prescribing it without thinking about the capacity of the patient, may do more harm than good.
It is the same for patients as well. They should take the medicine that suits their body; they can’t just go out and buy the strongest medicine there is without taking into account the strength of their body. Therefore, in the same way, we request the lama to teach the Dharma according to our capacity, for the benefit of all sentient beings. If a lama gives a student of small capacity a very high and powerful practice, it might harm rather than help the student. Dül ja means disciple, the object to be subdued; dzin ma is another Tibetan word for earth, or ground—dül ja dzin ma la means on the field, or ground, of the disciples, the objects to be tamed. Zab means profound; gyä, vast, extensive; chhö kyi, of Dharma; chhar pa, rain; bab tu söl, let pour down. Thus, we are requesting the lama to let pour down the rain of profound and extensive Dharma fittingly on the ground of the disciples.
As I mentioned before, generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs, so normally it would come at this point, but in this practice, because it is such an important request, it is explained at the beginning.
Therefore, the next limb is that of dedication.
Dag gi ji nye sag päi ge wa di
Tän dang dro wa kün la gang phän dang
Khyä par je tsün lo zang drag pa yi
Tän päi nying po ring du säl je shog
I dedicate whatever virtues I have collected,
For the benefit of the teachings and of all sentient beings,
And in particular, for the essential teachings
Of venerable Losang Dragpa to shine forever.
We dedicate all the merits that we have accumulated since beginningless time up to now for two great purposes. One is for the benefit for the doctrine, the teaching; for the flourishing and stability of the Dharma. The other great purpose is for the benefit of all sentient beings. Then, in particular, since this is a guru yoga practice in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa, we dedicate all our merit for the flourishing and stability of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, the essence of which is the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the realization of shunyata. The essence of the teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa is these three principles of the path and the practice of tantra as well. We dedicate our merit for all that to flourish forever.
Actually, there isn’t any separate, independent doctrine or tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. In reality, the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa is the Kadam tradition, which was founded by Lama Atisha. But then we have this term “Gelug,” which makes it even worse. It is not only pronounced incorrectly but it’s also spelt wrong. It should be Ga, not Ge, because Lama Tsongkhapa founded the first monastery, the great monastery on the mountain, Gadän Monastery. Once Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition became established, people started calling it the Gadän lug, Galug for short; lug means tradition. So, Galug means tradition of Gadän.
Now that we have invited Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya, requested him to remain in front of us as a field of merit and to this field of merit have made all the offerings, including the seven-limb puja, from prostration to dedication, we offer a mandala.
[Here offer a long or a short mandala.]
Recitation of the guru mantra
After the mandala offering comes the recitation of the lama mantra and the practice for accomplishing the three attributes of the Buddha in general and the wisdom attribute in particular.
There are many different kinds of wisdom. First we need great wisdom. But it is not enough simply to have great wisdom; we also need illuminating wisdom, a wisdom that is very clear. But neither are great wisdom and clear wisdom enough; we also need quick wisdom; wisdom that is very fast without taking time. Neither is it enough to have great, clear and quick wisdom; we also need profound wisdom, which can dig deeply into our practice. Superficial wisdom is not of much benefit or use; it understands and realizes only that which is on the surface. It cannot plumb the depths.
Thus, there are four wisdoms, and we can accomplish them all through the practice of the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa. In order to do so we must first rid ourselves of interferences to the development of wisdom; we must purify all our impurities. Therefore, before reciting the lama mantra, we make a specific request:
De tar shug drag söl wa tab päi thu
Je tsün yab sä sum gyi thug ka nä
Ö zer kar po bug chän thrö päi ne
Chig tu dre nä rang gi chi wor zug
Thus by the force of strong request,
From the hearts of the venerable father and sons,
Hollow rays of white light emanate,
Combine into one and absorb into the crown of my head.
This verse means that through our having made the offering of practice and a mandala to Lama Tsongkhapa and by the force of our request made with strong devotion to Lama Tsongkhapa and his two main disciples, three hollow white beams of light, like tubes, emanate from their hearts, combine into one, enter the crown of our head and absorb into us.
Bug chän means hollow, like a tube; chig tu dre nä means combined into one; rang gi chi wor zug means absorb into the crown of my head.
Three light rays emanate from the heart of Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples. The central one comes from Lama Tsongkhapa, one from Gyältsab Rinpoche (to Lama Tsongkhapa’s right) and the other from Khädrub Rinpoche (to his left). You should remember this very precisely because in meditation you have to visualize all the details. The light rays that emanate from their hearts are radiant white in color. They are beams of light but hollow inside, like a tube; empty inside. One starts from the heart of each of the three lamas, but after a short distance they combine into one. The end of this single beam that is a combination of all three absorbs into the crown of your head.
So, when you meditate seriously, you have to make this visualization very precisely. Three radiant white light tubes start from the hearts of the three lamas, concentrate into one, and that very concentrated hollow beam of light absorbs into the crown of your head. Then:
Ö kar bu gäi jug ngog lä jung wäi
Dü tzi kar po o mäi dog chän gyi
Nä dön dig drib bag chhag ma lü pa
Trü nä rang lü dang säl shel tar gyur (or, shel tar dag par gyur)
Through the white light hollow beam of light flows
Radiant white nectar the color of milk.
All illnesses, spirit harms, defilements, obstacles and their imprints, without exception,
Are washed away and my body becomes as pure and clear as crystal.
Radiant white nectar, amrita, flows through the hollow tube of light that has emanated from the hearts of the three lamas. This ambrosia is much more radiant than milk and absolutely white in color. Although in appearance it is like a liquid, it is in nature the buddha mind. It starts flowing down the three tubes of light, which then combine into one—like three rivers that come from three different valleys and unite into one, which then becomes much more powerful—enters our head and flows down into our body.
When the amrita, whose nature is that of the buddha mind, comes into our body it completely washes away all interferences, illnesses—physical and mental—evil influences, downfalls, karmic obstacles, obstacles due to delusion and imprints; all gross, medium and subtle interferences are completely washed away.
Our body is completely rid of them, as it says in the last line of this verse, and our whole body becomes full of light and amrita and extremely radiant, like a light body, like light fills a bulb. Like that, our body becomes completely full of light and amrita, with no external or internal impurities left in it. But this light and amrita are not simply like ordinary water or some other liquid like that—in this light and amrita are tiny letters, tiny versions of the lama mantra, the syllables of the mantra and many different things mixed with and absorbed in it, which I will explain in detail.
If we practice this guru yoga purification very strongly it becomes exactly the same as practicing Vajrasattva meditation. The effect is exactly the same, sufficient for Vajrasattva purification. But when practicing this meditation—the light and amrita flowing down, entering us and purifying all our obstacles and filling our whole body—we should not do the visualization quickly but slowly, stage by stage.
During this time, we recite the lama mantra, this one-verse praise that is the lama mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa. We recite it again and again, all the while visualizing in our mind the entire process of purification. Therefore, if we practice this lama mantra, called the migtsema, correctly, with the right motivation and the proper visualization, it also fulfills many other practices, because it contains within it the profound meaning of many aspects of Dharma; many things are concentrated in these few words.
So, to summarize, we have reached the point of complete inner purification by the white light and nectar that emanates from the three hearts of the three lamas, which are combined into one. This light and nectar absorbs into the crown of our head and enters our body, purifying all our obstacles, external and internal. Our body is filled with light and amrita, then it becomes radiant and completely pure, inside and outside. At the end of the purification, our body becomes completely in the nature of light, like a light bulb which changes completely from the outside.
Our body is completely filled with amrita and light, and within this there are many syllables of the lama mantra. Those who can read Tibetan should visualize the syllables of the lama mantra, which are not as they are written, but are more in the nature of light. They are like light letters. When we say that our body is filled with syllables of the lama mantra, it is not like a bag filled with grain; rather, the syllables fill our body like rain in a fog. With this visualization in our mind, recite at least one mala of the lama mantra. During this one mala, visualize this process of purification, with light coming down from the chests of the lamas, entering our body, purifying the obstacles and filling it with light and amrita, and the lama mantra syllables.
The one-verse lama mantra starts with this line:
Mig-me tze-wäi ter-ch’en chän-rä-zig
Avalokiteshvara who is great treasure of compassion without apprehension.
Chän-rä-zig is Avalokiteshvara. Mig-me means without apprehension, without grasping. This refers to shunyata nature, which is without inherent nature, or void of inherent nature. This shunyata nature is called mig-me. Mig means apprehend and me means without. Mig-me means no true inherent nature to apprehend.
Compassion without apprehension means compassion which is accompanied or supported by the wisdom realizing shunyata. Compassion which is supported by the realization of shunyata is much greater, more profound and powerful than ordinary compassion without the support of wisdom. Tze-wäi is compassion and ter-ch’en means great treasure. The great treasure of this compassion which is supported by the wisdom of all the buddhas is Avalokiteshvara. When the compassion of every buddha appears in the form of a deity, it is none other than Avalokiteshvara. In this prayer we are saying, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are in the nature of Avalokiteshvara who is the great treasure of the compassion of all the buddhas.” Many scriptural sources and reasons have proven completely that Lama Tsongkhapa is the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, but there is no need to explain this in detail now. Therefore, this practice of guru yoga will be sufficient for a person who wishes to develop compassion through the practice of Avalokiteshvara meditation.
The next line is:
Dri-me kyen-pä wang-po jam-päi-yang
Manjushri, the lord of wisdom without defilements
Dri-me is without defilement or impurity. Ky’en-pä is wisdom or comprehension, cognition. Dri-me is realizing everything in a pure sense without any mistake or wrong view. The wisdom of every buddha, without defilement or illusion, is the very nature of Manjushri. In other words, Manjushri is the very form of all the wisdom of every buddha. This means, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are also the very Manjushri who is the lord of wisdom without defilement, the wisdom of every buddha.” As I explained in the beginning, although Lama Tsongkhapa appeared in human form as a spiritual master, in his ultimate nature he is Manjushri.
The next line is:
Dü-pung ma-lü jom-dzä sang-wäi-dag
Vajrapani who destroys the force of mara without exception.
When the power of all the buddhas appears in the form of a deity, it is Vajrapani. Dü-pung means the force of mara and refers not only to some fierce demons, but also includes both external and internal forces of mara. The external forces of mara are the evil forces and the internal mara is the real mara, which is the force of delusions and the imprints of delusions. This means, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are also the very Vajrapani who is the destroyer of all evil forces.”
In short, Lama Tsongkhapa is the combined form of all three deities; Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani. In other words, Lama Tsongkhapa is the concentrated form of all three attributes of Buddha: compassion, wisdom and power. There are people who wish to practice meditation in connection with Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani and there are those who wish to develop compassion, wisdom and power. If we practice this guru yoga seriously, it will be sufficient. Through this guru yoga, we can accomplish all our goals together.
The fourth line is:
G’ang-chän khä-pä tsug-gyän tsong-kha-pa
Tsongkhapa who is the crown of the sages of the Land of Snows
Although there were countless masters in Tibet, when Lama Tsongkhapa appeared in the Land of Snows he became the crown of all the sages or masters in Tibet.
The next line is,
Lo-zang drag-päi zhab-la sol-wa-deb
I request to the feet of the Lama Lo-zang dr’ag-pa
Lo-zang drag-päi is Lama Tsongkhapa’s personal name. What are we requesting? We are requesting Lama Tsongkhapa to bestow upon us the blessing of the three attributes of Buddha, so that we will receive these three attributes within ourselves; so we will generate, grow and accomplish these three within ourselves. With this meaning in our mind and with the visualization as explained before, we practice the recitation of the lama prayer.
Thus, first we purify all the obstacles and interferences that are within us. After the purification, when all these obstacles and interferences are purified, we must begin the actual practice for the development of wisdom. There are three stages of wisdom. First, we must develop great wisdom. Previously there was radiant white light emanating from the chests of the three lamas, combining into one and absorbing into the crown of our head and purifying us. Now this light suddenly changes color. For the development of great wisdom, the color of the light suddenly changes into yellow. It is not absolutely yellow; it is more like orange. Actually, the amrita flowing in the light tube is this color, so by changing the color of the amrita, it also changes the color of the tube, the light itself. So, everything turns a light orange color.
There is a particular recitation that starts with:
Again the great wisdom comes in the form of orange amrita that fills our body. This means the great wisdom of all the buddhas is transformed into orange-colored amrita which emanates from the chest of Lama Tsongkhapa, comes down through our head and fills our body. If a bottle is filled with orange liquid, from outside and inside the color is completely changed to orange. In the same way, our body is filled with orange amrita. This is not exactly like filling a bottle with an orange water, because it is not only amrita liquid but also, as explained before, it is radiant, orange light. So from outside and inside we become completely in the form of orange light.
The atoms of amrita appear in the form of Manjushri. Here we visualize that the atoms of amrita are in the form of small Manjushris, so our body contains countless small forms of Manjushri. From these Manjushris in our body, light emanates and goes out in all ten directions. This invites and brings back to us the great wisdom of all the buddhas in the form of countless Manjushris in all sizes. They absorb into us through all parts of our body, like rain on a lake. It’s as if all the raindrops are completely absorbed into the lake. We must meditate strongly that we have received the power of the great wisdom of every buddha within us.
Light emanates and goes out to the ten directions. The great wisdom of the Victorious Ones and their sons comes in the form of the deity and fills our body.
With this visualization, the orange-colored amrita and light comes down from the chests of the lamas, then enters and fills our body. All the atoms of that amrita are in the form of countless Manjushris. From these Manjushris, light emanates and goes in the ten directions, inviting the great wisdom of every buddha in the form of countless, different-sized Manjushris. These completely absorb into us, thus we receive the power of the great wisdom of every buddha within us. With this visualization and meditation we make one mala of recitation of the lama mantra.
The next stage is the development of the clear wisdom of every buddha. For the development of clear wisdom, again we visualize the lama with light emanating from his chest and absorbing into us. It is the same colored flow of amrita as previously, but instead of the form of Lama Manjushri in the amrita, it is now the Manjushri mantra. All the atoms of the amrita are not in the form of the body of Manjushri; instead they are in the form of the mantra of Manjushri, OM AH RA PA TSA NA. So, all the atoms of the amrita are in the form of the mantra syllables, which are of very strong radiance. The light of even one syllable can completely illuminate the whole universe, it is so powerful. They are luminous syllables. Because this is for the development of clear wisdom, we should also visualize as clearly as possible that all the lights and everything else are radiant, clear and luminous. These syllables, as I explained before, are not like painted, drawn or written letters. They are all in the form of light letters, absolutely luminous. The light of all the mantra syllables emanates to the ten directions and the clear wisdom of all the buddhas is invited in the form of the letters OM AH RA PA TSA NA in countless numbers, and these absorb in us. So with meditation we recite the lama prayer again with another mala. That is the meaning of the following verse, which we recite before the second mala of the lama mantra.
This is the same prayer as the previous one for great wisdom, but there have been just a few changes. In the first line, it is now säl-wäi ky’en-rab, which means clear wisdom. The second line is exactly the same. In the third line, instead of Manjushri’s body, it is a-ra-pa-tza-näi. The fourth line is the same. Again the fifth line is changed to säl-wäi ky’en-rab, which means clear wisdom. The second line is exactly the same. In the third line, instead of Manjushri’s body, it is a-ra-pa-tza-näi. The fourth line is the same. Again in the fifth line, change to säl-wäi ky’en-rab, clear wisdom. In the last line, there is now zung-ngag, which means in the form of mantra. Having rejoiced in this verse, begin the lama mantra again and recite another mala, doing the visualization that has already been explained. When you have finished one mala of the lama mantra for the development of clear wisdom, then go to the next stage.
Now is the time for the development of speedy or quick wisdom. For that, again the visualizations are similar. The light and amrita are all as before, however, the atoms of amrita are not in the form of the deity’s body nor in the form of the mantra, AH RA PA TSA NA. They are all in the form of the essential syllable of Manjushri, DHI, which is the syllable of the mind of Manjushri. Therefore, for the development of clear wisdom, all the atoms of the amrita are visualized in the form of this seed syllable DHI. From outside, we can see everything very clearly. Our body becomes very radiant outside and inside. From the DHIs in our body, orange light emanates and goes out to the ten directions inviting the quick wisdom of all the buddhas in the form of countless DHI syllables, which absorb into us. Thus we receive within ourselves the quick wisdom of every buddha. With this meditation we practice another mala of the lama prayer after we have recited the following verse:
Again, this is the same verse with a few little changes. Now it is nyur-wäi ky’en-rab which means quick wisdom. The next change is to DHI-yig mar-ser gy’i which means the orange syllable DHI. Again, line five is changed to nyur-wäi ky’en-rab, the quick wisdom of the Victorious Ones and their sons. In the last line, sa-b’ön nam-par means in the form of the seed. After you have finished one mala for the development of clear wisdom, stop and recite this verse; then with this visualization, recite one mala of the lama mantra for the development of quick wisdom.
Still another wisdom is left—profound wisdom. For the development of this wisdom, the visualization is basically the same except the atoms of amrita are in the form of the sword and the scripture—the symbols in Manjushri’s hands. You don’t have to feel any discomfort from visualizing many swords in your body, because all these swords and scriptures are in the nature of light. As before, light emanates from the swords and scriptures and goes into the ten directions, inviting the profound wisdom of every buddha in the same form. A countless number of swords and scriptures absorbs into us; thus we receive the power of the profound wisdom of every buddha in the same form within us. We receive the blessing of the profound wisdom of every buddha, so that our wisdom can penetrate to the very depth of every object of analysis. With this visualization we practice the lama mantra and another mala, after reciting the following verse.
So, if we practice one mala for each, this makes five malas altogether. The first mala is for purification, then there is one mala for each of the four developments of wisdom. If we can practice more than that—hundreds of thousands and ten-thousands or hundred-thousands, it is even better.
The first change is to zab-päi ky’en-rab, which is profound wisdom. The next change, in line three, is to leg-b’am ral-dr’i-yi, which means scripture and sword. All the atoms of amrita are in the form of scriptures and swords. Again, line five changes to zab-päi ky’en-rab. Finally, line six starts with ch’ag-tsän which means the hand symbols. With this visualization, we recite one mala of the lama prayer.
Therefore, if we practice the guru yoga in this way, this practice will be sufficient for many other practices. After five malas of recitation of the lama mantra, if you have time and want to practice more of the lama mantras that is better. When we have finished the lama mantras, we conclude the visualization is with these lines:
Päl-dän tza-wäi la-ma rin-po-ch’e
The glorious precious Root Lama Dag-g’i ch’i-wor pä-däi teng-zhug-la
Remain on my head on the lotus and the moon disk. Kadr’in ch’en-päi go-nä je-zung-te
Hold me out of the great compassion, great kindness Ku-sung t’ug-kyi ngö-drub tzäl-d’u-söl
I request you to grant me the siddhi of body, speech, and mind.
We are requesting the lama to come down on our head, to remain on our head and bestow upon us the blessing of all the qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. In our visualization, first Gyältsab Rinpoche, who is on Lama Tsongkhapa’s right side, absorbs into him, then Khädrub Rinpoche, who is on his left side, also absorbs into him. From the bottom of the seat of the throne, gradually the golden throne is absorbed to Lama Tsongkhapa, then he comes down and remains on our head, facing the same direction as we are. At that time, Lama Tsongkhapa’s body must be visualized as so radiant and so beautiful on our head. We must visualize that Lama Tsongkhapa has completely accepted and promised to give us all the powers.
The next verse is similar to the preceding one:
Päl-dän tza-wäi la-ma rin-po-ch’e
The glorious precious Root Lama Dag-g’i nying-g’ar pä-möi teng-zhug-la
Remain on the lotus in my heart. Ka-dr’in ch’en-pöi go-nä je-zung-te
Hold me by your great compassion, great kindness J’ang-ch’ub nying-pöi b’ar-du tän-par-zhug
Remain steadily up to the essence of bodhi, buddhahood
We are requesting Lama Tsongkhapa to come down and remain in our heart always, steadily, until we reach buddhahood. So, Lama Tsongkhapa becomes smaller and smaller until he is the size of our thumb. When he is about that size, he enters through the crown of our head and slowly comes down to the lotus at the center of our heart and remains there.
There are much more elaborate forms of visualization but all these are not necessary at this time. This guru yoga and visualization can be so much more detailed, with many more things to visualize, but at the present time this might be too much. At this time, I am giving you a simple meditation especially for the development of the four wisdoms.
Now one short dedication is:
La-ma sang-gyä drub-gy’ur-na
Accomplish the state of Lama-Buddha
This refers to Lama Tsongkhapa who is the lama or spiritual master, and Buddha. He is both lama and Buddha in one. Through this practice we also accomplish this state of the Lama-Buddha, therefore this meditation is called guru yoga or Lama Näljor, or sometimes La Drub, which means to accomplish the lama.
By accomplishing this state of the Lama-Buddha, what is our purpose? That is the next line:
Dro-wa chig-gy’ang ma-lü-pa
All beings without exception D’e-yi-sa-la gö-par-shog
May I lead them to that state.
After we have accomplished the state of Lama-Buddha, then our task is to liberate all sentient beings from suffering and establish them in the state of buddhahood. That is the conclusion of the guru yoga. For those who especially want to practice seriously, if in the practice there are any questions, difficulties or doubts in the practice, or anything that is unclear, then you can come to me and I will solve the problem.
Geshe Rabten gave this commentary on the Praise to Manjushri in Dharamsala, India, in June, 1975. Translated by Gonsar Rinpoche. Edited by Sandra Smith and Ven. Gyalten Lekden, March 2013.
The Praise to Manjushri at the beginning of this commentary was provided by FPMT Education Services in January 2013. There are some differences between the FPMT translation of the Praise and Gonsar Rinpoche's translation of the Tibetan terms. Refer to the endnotes, where these discrepancies are discussed.
Praise to Manjushri (Gang-lo-ma)
La ma dang gön po jé tsün jam päi yang la chak tsäl lo
Gang gi lo drö drip nyi trin drel nyi tar nam dak rap sel wä
Ji nyé dön kün ji zhin zik chir nyi kyi tuk kar lek bam dzin
Gang dak si pä tsön rar ma rik mün tom duk ngel gyi zir wä
Dro tsok kün la bu chik tar tsé yän lak druk chü yang dän sung
Druk tar cher drok nyön mong nyi long lä kyi chak drok dröl dzä ching
Ma rik mün sel duk ngäl nyu gu ji nyé chö dzé rel dri nam
Dö nä dak ching sa chü tar sön yön tän lhün dzok gyel sä tu bö ku
Chu trak chu dang chu nyi gyän trä dak lö mün sel jam päi yang la dü
OM A RA PA TSA NA DHI
Tsé dän khyö kyi khyen rap ö zer gyi
Dak lö ti muk mün pa rap säl nä
Ka dang tän chö zhung luk tok pa yi
Lo drö pop päi nang wa tsäl du söl
Homage to my guru and protector, Manjushri!
You, whose intelligence shines forth as the sun, unclouded by delusions or traces of ignorance,
Who hold to your heart a scriptural text symbolic of seeing all things as they are,
Who teaches in sixty ways, with the loving compassion of a mother for her only son,
To all creatures caught in the prison of samsara,
Confused in the darkness of their ignorance, overwhelmed by their suffering.
You, whose dragon-thunder–like proclamation of Dharma arouses us from the stupor of our delusions
And frees us from the iron chains of our karma,
Who wields the sword of wisdom hewing down suffering wherever its sprouts appear,
Clearing away the darkness of all ignorance;
You, whose princely body is adorned with the one hundred and twelve marks of a Buddha,
Who has completed the stages achieving the highest perfections of a bodhisattva,
Who has been pure from the beginning.
To you, oh Manjushri, I bow.
OM A RA PA TSA NA DHI
With the brilliance of your wisdom, O compassionate one,
Illuminate the darkness enclosing my mind,
Enlighten my intelligence and wisdom
So that I may gain insight into the Buddha’s words and the texts that explain them.
According to the oral tradition teachings of the lineage gurus, like the junior tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Praise to Manjushri (Gang-lo-ma) was composed by 100 Indian mahasiddhis who had gathered together. Each one separately decided to say a verse of praise to Manjushri, who at that time blessed their minds. Ninety-nine of them wrote the same praise, which became known as Gang-lo-ma. The hundredth mahasiddhi wrote a slightly different praise, which became a supplementary prayer to Gang-lo-ma called Sheja-kha-yingpa. This is very, very famous and was recited by the pandit Vidyakokila the Younger. The text is now almost lost; it is extremely rare and it is something many people are searching for, because it is a very, very important praise to Manjushri.
Although the text begins with “I make prostrations to the lama and Manjushri”,1 in your visualization, in your own mind, the two should be inseparable. There should not be any separation of the lama and Manjushri, so whenever you see Manjushri, you should see the lama. There should be inseparability of the two. This is very important. In some other practices, whenever the word lama is mentioned—whether a deity is mentioned and visualized, or whether the sun is used, for example, there is no difference. Sometimes instead of using sun, they use moon, but it is the same thing, showing the clarity, or the total disintegration of physical and mental obscurations.
Ji nyé dön kün means “whatever you can find” or “whatever can be perceived,” and refers to the conventional truth. Everything that operates on the conventional level is perceived by Manjushri.
Ji zhin zik means “absolute truth” —not only the understanding of the conventional aspect of how things appear to us, the ordinary mode of existence—but seeing the absolute reality. The true mode of existence or absolute truth is understood by Manjushri.
Ji-zhin zik chir also references “absolute lama.” You should see there is no difference between Manjushri and the lama, according to the tantric texts as well as sutra texts. There is no difference of opinion and no difference in traditions. All the traditions of Buddhism agree on this.
Gang gilo-drö means “whose wisdom”, referring to Manjushri as just like the sun in clear space without any obstructions and obstacles of clouds. If there are clouds, the rays of the sun will not shine on us directly; there are obstructions. The wisdom of Manjushri is clear of the two types of obstacles, drip nyi, kleshavarana (the obstacle of disturbing emotions) and jneyavarana (the obstacles to knowledge). He has freedom from ordinary and instinctive delusions, and he has the true qualities of an enlightened being.
There is no difference whether the moon or the sun is used to represent truth; he has the wisdom of understanding the dual truths. In order to signify this great transcendental wisdom void of all obstacles, which is not visible in any kind of physical form, he holds a book with his left hand at his heart. Holding the book at the heart signifies that he has these mental qualities. Physical qualities can be expressed by the marks and signs, and by what he does, by the compassionate deeds; but in order to show how his psychic qualities, he holds the book, signifying the wisdom of understanding the two levels of truth.
The basic qualities of enlightened beings are wisdom, compassion and power. Next is the quality of compassion. Gang-dag refers to sentient beings. Si-pa tsön-rar means “in the prison of samsara.” This refers specifically to the two kinds of obstacles: grasping at the true existence of phenomena and grasping at the true existence of the personality. These two types of grasping are what prevent us from getting beyond the cycle of samsaric existence. The physical world does not prevent us from getting out of samsara. We are prevented only by these two main faculties of the mind—grasping at the true existence of phenomena and grasping at the true existence of the personality, the false ego and such things. This is what is referred to as the prison of samsara.
Ma-rig mün-thom means “completely bewildered by ignorance.” The cause of our bewilderment is these two kinds of grasping. By this bewilderment we do many wrong things and make no discrimination between white and black actions. Due to doing more black actions, it’s almost as if we are intoxicated by the sufferings. In addition to “being overwhelmed,” zir-wa also means intoxicated.2
Manjushri has great compassion—like a mother’s compassion for her only child—for sentient beings who have this bewilderment of the two basic mistaken qualities or faculties of the mind. Bu-chik means “only child.” Manjushri’s compassion for sentient beings is just like a mother with only one child. The mother gives all her attention and loving care to that child, so it becomes like a jewel and a focus for her. Actually Manjushri’s compassion is much greater than what we can imagine or explain by any means or examples. Although the example of a mother’s love for her only child is the best we can use, it is quite limited. Sometimes our care and compassion is for the self-cherishing attitude—for our own self.
Manjushri’s unimaginable compassion is expressed by druk tar cher drok, which means “like the roar of a dragon’s thunder”. He makes the Dharma teaching known over a great distance with a loud sound. This is an expression of his kind concern and compassion for sentient beings. The ultimate way of benefiting sentient beings is not to improve their physical standard of living, but to improve their spiritual standard.
Nyön mong nyi long means “we are awakened from our sleep of ignorance”,3 just as a loud alarm clock awakens us completely from a peaceful sleep. Manjushri’s teachings are like the thunder of a dragon, completely disturbing the sleep of ignorance. Sometimes we sleep during meditation, and we need to be awakened.
Lä kyi chak drok means “fetters of karma.”4 We are bound and committed to our own previous actions, so what we do now has been mostly determined. The thunder-like actions of Manjushri cut the rope of ignorance of our karma.
There are many things we cannot do on our own because we have made certain rules for ourselves—the rules of delusions. We can consider this as karma which prevents us from doing many things that we would like to do. We have to break through these kinds of actions which keep us very limited and confined to a narrow point. Once we break through these, we become free from accumulating or forming further karma.
Our own actions are our limitations, like the handcuffs or legcuffs on a prisoner. When a prisoner has iron bars across his legs, he cannot go anywhere. We create these things in our own minds, but our positive action can prevent us from accumulating further karmas. This is by means of our own control, it’s usually determined by us. We should not allow this kind of continuation of past actions to determine our future.
Manjushri holds the sword of wisdom, indicating his power. This is an expression of his compassion, which cuts the rope of actions and the rope of ignorance and delusion of sentient beings. This is not something he has no means to do; he has a great deal of power to do this, as indicated by the sword in his right hand.
Dö nä dak means “pure from the very beginning”. This refers to the definitive form of Manjushri. The interpretive form of Manjushri can be the bodhisattvas who are not pure from the beginning, but who have worked and purified themselves. However, the definitive form is the manifestation of the Buddha’s wisdom. This aspect of Manjushri was pure from the beginning.
“He who has been pure from the beginning and who has traveled all the ten stages and has reached the stage of buddhahood, yet who manifests himself as the son of the buddhas.” 5
Gyal-sä tu-wö-ku actually means “the son of the Buddha who can do many things.”6 This explains his power of attainment, of manifesting according to the needs of sentient beings—sometimes as an enlightened king, sometimes as a prince of the Buddha, a bodhisattva.
When the Buddha’s qualities of wisdom, compassion and power are described, wisdom is the quality of his mind, and compassion is described by its expression—the teachings, the quality of his speech. Then there are his physical qualities; the qualities of his body.
Chu trak chu means “ten times ten” and dang chu nyi “plus twelve.” This refers to the 112 physical attributes of the Buddha; the 80 minor and 32 major attributes. These are like the natural ornaments of an enlightened being, which are without any burden. Silver and gold ornaments have tremendous weight; they may look nice but you get tired because of their weight and the care that you have to take.
Dak lö mün sel jam päi yang la dü means “I greet Manjushri with the deep veneration of my body, speech, and mind, who will eliminate the total darkness of my mind.”7 It is now talking about the Buddha’s qualities of wisdom, compassion and power, and the qualities of body, speech and mind. We are praising Manjushri just by expressing these various qualities.
Dü means “to go down, to bend down.” This is like a fruit tree having very large fruit that will pull down the branch—this is called dü. When you notice certain qualities in someone, then your pride and conceit becomes bent. You no longer feel that you are great, but you see something about yourself in someone; something you can just naturally become. You just bow the head: this is how all the homages and respects are paid.
At this point the mantra OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI should be said about a hundred times. If you say this mantra daily in connection with this prayer; if you really concentrate, then your wisdom can improve within a month. In one month you can feel the difference in your intelligence, and your wisdom really expands. This is the great mantra of Manjushri.
After saying the mantra there is the conclusion prayer.8
A very clever person who has never studied with any teacher could perhaps understand any text he picks up, but that would be a superficial understanding. He would only understand what is in the book, not the real deeper meanings which are hidden completely. Certain very special wisdom is needed for this, like the power of Manjushri, the transmissions of the lineages, the powers of the lamas and such things.
This is a daily practice we should do at home. The first thing we should do after getting up is rinse the mouth, then recite this prayer to Manjushri and the mantra. This is extremely beneficial; it makes a big difference to our day and gives us great wisdom. It can help, it can make a whole big difference.
Then it is good to make an offering of the mandala to Manjushri by using this verse: “In the place adorned with flowers and beautiful circumstances, on this great surface, the earth, I visualize all the continents, the sun and the moon. Together with my wealth, my body, speech and mind, I offer this to you.” It is a good practice to make a short mandala offering. There are two ways of saying this verse, for which the visualizations are slightly different. Sang-gyä zhing-la means you take the entire universe and make this offering to another place—to another pure land where the buddhas are residing. When you say zhing-du, you visualize this very place where you are now standing as a pure land and offer it to the objects of refuge. So if you see this spelled as zhing-la or zhing-du it is not a mistake, but a different visualization.
Je Tsongkhapa said of Manjushri “Just as the elephant longs for the river, so do I long for your good qualities.” In another world age, there was a person with the same stream of consciousness as Manjushri. The ruling Buddha was Dawa Kunzik,9 the King of the Dragon’s Sound. Manjushri was one of the four chakra emperors then, and had a large family whose only work was to look after the Buddha and his disciples. He made a continuous practice of offerings, year after year, but was not sure how to dedicate the merit. A voice from the sky said that he should dedicate the merit for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Manjushri went to see the Buddha with a large party and Buddha said that the power of his merit would not fail for what he wished and dedicated them for. He advised the king to develop bodhicitta and take the bodhisattva vows. The king made elaborate offerings and vowed very strongly to destroy the self-cherishing attitude, because he might never enjoy results if he were to find himself cheating other sentient beings by having self-cherishing attitude. Many others took bodhisattva vows at the same time. The only one left was the Tathagata Sa-lha, the deity of the earth, who remained under the earth according to his bodhisattva promises. All the others went to other worlds.
It is Manjushri who will cause all the buddhas of this world age to take bodhisattva vows. His name then was Chö-gyäl-tsän, Banner of Dharma. He became the guru of 100 aspiring buddhas. Manjushri is the father of all the buddhas to come. He is always spoken of as a bodhisattva and his manifestations are those of a bodhisattva, but he is really a full buddha. He attained enlightenment many times to set examples, going through the twelve deeds. When he attained enlightenment, it was in this universe, several times in the south.
There are pure lands of Manjushri, which are hard to be born into. Even if all bodhisattvas made prayers to be born there, only 16 could be born there. There are only bodhisattvas in this pure land; not even arhats can go there. There is no suffering or lack of freedom, so there is speedy progress. The residing buddha, Kun-zik himself, looks after us and gives us teachings. To go there it is necessary to do Manjushri practice, the practice of dawa-para(?) and to have bodhicitta.
Manjushri should be visualized as just like the Buddha, but all yellow. His left hand is in the teaching mudra and his right hand is in the mudra of fearlessness. He should be visualized as miles high. Make many paintings or statues of Manjushri. We don’t need to make requests of him; just by being there, he solves all our questions and problems. Making devotion to Manjushri is like making devotion to all the Sutrayana and Tantrayana deities. It is better to recite Manjushri’s name than those of all the buddhas.
In Manjushri’s time, there was a king who had killed his father by hitting him in anger. He was overwhelmed with regret, and the present Buddha came down to him and said that Manjushri could deal with the problem, although he himself couldn’t. Mahakashek and Manjushri came with 499 disciples each. The king prepared offerings and food for 1,000 persons, but 100,000 manifestations of Manjushri came. The king was downcast, as it was so inauspicious to have inadequate offerings. Moreover, he didn’t have enough bowls, so Manjushri manifested begging bowls in front of his manifestations. The king wanted to offer clothing to Manjushri, but Manjushri, who took different forms, turned into light and said: “Are you square, circular, triangular or something else?” Thus he tricked the king into meditation on voidness.
Manjushri is the father, the method, bodhicitta, and the mother, the wisdom understanding voidness. The name of Manjushri is more powerful than that of other buddhas, not because of the quality of enlightenment, but because of the differences in expansiveness of the vows taken as a bodhisattva.
Most Indian pandits had Manjushri as their main deity. For example, Manjushri was the closest friend and advisor of Je Tsongkhapa. Manjushri does not discriminate when to appear; this depends on the enthusiasm of the disciple, as in the story of Asanga and the dog.
1 “Lama” could be seen as one object of praise and “protector Manjushri” as the other object of praise, thus Geshe Rabten comments that the two are inseparable. [Return to text]
2Zir-wa is usually translated as “afflicted”, but in the FPMT prayer above, it is translated as “overwhelmed (by suffering).” Applying the meaning “intoxicated” to this term must be an alternative or oral tradition. [Return to text]
5 Different from the FPMT translation of this prayer. The difference is important because of the use of the conjunction “yet” in this translation, absent in the FPMT translation. It is not technically there in the Tibetan, but it is verse and can be assumed, as long as there is consistency. [Return to text]
6 This means “the primary son of the Conqueror,” which is a euphemism for bodhisattva. This is an interpretation, not a literal translation. [Return to text]
7 Different from the FPMT translation. This is an interpretation, not a literal translation. The words say, “To Manjushri, who clears the darkness of my mind, I bend down.” [Return to text]
8 Lama Thubten Yeshe’s translation of this prayer:
Most compassionate Manjushri:
With your great kindness, please
Dispel through your magnificent light
Of understanding wisdom
My mental darkness of ignorance,
That I might comprehend fully all Lord
Buddha’s sutras and the Mahayana pandits’
Commentaries, by receiving the courageous
Vision of understanding knowledge wisdom. [Return to text]
9 This is a best guess, however, “Dawa Kunzik” is not even close to meaning “The King of the Dragon’s Sound,” so it’s possible that these two are separate entities. [Return to text]
This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre on April 11, 1980. It was translated by Gonsar Rinpoche. First published in Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. Now appears in the 2005 LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.
Understanding leads to renunciation
Dharma practice entails more than just calling yourself a Buddhist or making superficial changes in the way you live your life. It means totally integrating the teachings with your mind.
To integrate the teachings with your mind, you must first prepare yourself by cultivating spiritual stability—pure renunciation—within your stream of being. The Tibetan term for renunciation, nges-jung,1 implies that you must first realize that you are caught in the process of rebirth in samsara, a state of being characterized by a great many sufferings. Therefore, at the beginning of your practice you have to realize the true nature of samsara itself and how you exist in it; you must become acutely aware of the unsatisfactory nature of samsara, the condition in which you find yourself. This is very important.
Once you have recognized the true nature of samsara and become sufficiently disillusioned with it, from the depths of your heart you will generate the spontaneous aspiration to liberate yourself from it. This pure, spontaneous, constant aspiration to be free of samsara is renunciation.
Generally, there are two ways to develop the fully renounced mind. The first is to meditate on the two aspects of samsara: its nature of suffering and the causes of this suffering. The second is to meditate on the twelve links of interdependent origination. Here I will discuss briefly the latter.
There are two main ways of presenting the twelve links: the scriptural way, which explains them in terms of how samsara evolves in general, and the experiential way, which explains them in terms of how they are experienced by an individual over a continuum of lifetimes. These two systems differ slightly in the way the order of the twelve links is presented. I’m going to explain them the second way: how they are experienced.2
The first of the twelve links is ignorance, the root of all samsaric suffering. The Sanskrit term, avidya [Tib: ma-rig-pa], means “not seeing” and implies an obscuration of mind. To explain precisely what this ignorance is and how it functions requires a great deal of time and energy, so let’s just focus on the general principles instead.
When we go to teachings, for example, we have the intention, “Today I’m going to go and listen to teachings.” Whenever we think like this, we all have a certain conception of our “self,” or “I.” Buddhism calls this sense of self the ego. Our ego is with us at all times and becomes more obvious on certain occasions, like when we encounter highly favorable circumstances or great difficulties. At such times our sense of self becomes more intense and visible than usual. Each of us is subject to our own conception of “I.” We can see it quite easily in our daily experiences without need of lengthy, theoretical reasoning.
Whenever our ego-concept arises very strongly, it grasps us as if it exists within us as something very solid, very vivid and totally uncontrollable. This is how the false self grasps us. However, it is important to contemplate whether or not this “I” really exists as it appears. If we search for it within ourselves, from the top of our head down to the soles of our feet, we’ll come to the conclusion that neither our physical body nor any of its individual parts can serve as the “I” that under certain circumstances arises so strongly. Nothing in our body can be the “I”. Our limbs, organs and so forth are only parts of the body, which, in a sense, “owns” them.
If we analyze our minds in the same way, we’ll find that the mind is nothing but a stream of different thoughts and mental factors and conclude that nothing in the mind is the “I” that we conceive either.
Moreover, since there’s no separate entity outside our body or mind to represent the “I,” we can conclude that the self that we normally feel doesn’t exist. If we meditate like this, we’ll see that it’s true that the “I” can’t be found. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t exist at all. Non-existence cannot be the answer, because we’re analyzing how we exist.
Actually, the situation is very subtle. We neither exist as simply as the ignorant mind supposes, nor do we not exist, and gaining an understanding of the true nature of the self requires thorough training and sustained meditation practice.
The mental factor that holds the wrong, fabricated view of the self is what Buddhism means by ignorance, the first of the twelve links of interdependent origination. All the other delusions—such as attachment to ourselves, our friends and possessions and aversion to people and things alien to us—rest on the foundation of this false concept of the self. Acting under the influence of such attachment and aversion, we accumulate much unwholesome karma of body, speech and mind.
The distorted actions of body, speech and mind that arise from ignorance, attachment and aversion stain the mind with what are called volitional formations. This is the second of the twelve links. The moment after we create a distorted karma, the action itself has passed and is gone, but it leaves on our stream of consciousness an imprint that remains there until it either manifests in future as a favorable or unfavorable experience, depending on the nature of the original action, or is otherwise disposed of.
The continuity of the mind stream serves as the basis of the imprints of karma. This is the third link, the link of consciousness. It carries the imprints and later helps them ripen and manifest in the same way that seeds are sown in the earth, which then serves as a cause for the growth of a crop. However, not only must seeds be sown in the ground; they also require favorable conditions to grow. Contributory causes such as water, fertilizer and so forth must be present in order for the seeds to ripen and reach maturity.
The attachment that evolves from ignorance helps condition the karmic seeds sown in our stream of consciousness. This particular attachment, which is called craving, is the fourth link.
There also exists in our mind stream another type of attachment, called grasping, which has the special function of bringing karmic seeds to fulfillment. This is the fifth link of the twelve-linked chain. It manifests at the end of our life and conditions the throwing karma that gives rise to our next rebirth.
Although both above types of attachment have the nature of desire, each has its own function. One helps to ripen karmic seeds; the other brings them to completion and connects us with our next life.
The sixth link is becoming. At the end of our life, a throwing karma arises and immediately directs us towards our future existence. This special mental action that appears at the final stage of our life is called “becoming.”
These six links are generally associated with this life, although it is not necessarily the case that they will manifest in this life. In particular, some situations may develop in other lifetimes, but in most cases they belong to this life.
As we near death, our body and mind begin to weaken. Bodily strength and the grosser levels of mind dissolve until finally we enter a level of consciousness that the scriptures call the clear light state. This is the final stage of our life, the actual consciousness of death—the most subtle level of mind. We remain in this state for a certain time, then there occurs a slight movement of consciousness and we enter the intermediate state—our mind shoots out of our body and enters the bardo, the realm between death and rebirth.
The intermediate state has its own body and mind, but the body is not made of the same gross elements as ours. Therefore, bardo beings do not have the gross form that we do. The bardo body is composed of a subtle energy called “wind,” which exists in a dimension different to ours. We should not think that this is a wonderful or beautiful state, however, for it is characterized by great suffering and difficulty. We undergo a total loss of free will and are driven here and there by the force of karma until we finally find an appropriate place of rebirth. The beings in this state subsist on smell rather than on ordinary food and it is this search for food that eventually leads them to seek rebirth. After a certain period in the bardo state they take rebirth in accordance with their karma.
There are many different realms into which we can take rebirth and each of these has its own causes and conditions. For example, to be born human, our future parents must unite in sexual union,3 their white and red cells (sperm and ovum) must combine and enter into the womb of the mother, and so forth. Then, when the bardo being, driven by the force of its individual karma, reaches its karmically determined parents, certain circumstances arise bringing to an end the life of the bardo being, upon which its mind enters the conjoined cells of the parents.
The moment the wind leaves the bardo body and enters the united cells of the parents, the link of rebirth is established. This is the seventh link. Mere union of the parents, however, is not a sufficient cause for engaging this link. As well, the womb of the mother must be free of obstacles that could interfere with the birth of the child; the material causes of the physical body of the child, that is the parents’ sperm and ovum, should also be free from defects; and the three beings involved must have a karmic connection with one another in order to establish this kind of father-mother-child relationship. When all these circumstances are complete, rebirth takes place.
Name and form
From the time the link of rebirth is established until the sensory organs of the child are developed is the eighth link, which is called name and form. The material substances that constitute the sperm and ovum of the parents are “form”; the consciousness that dwells within that material basis is called “name.”
The six sense organs
After the sense organs of the child have developed into a mature, functional state, the ninth link, that of the six senses, arises. This is like the construction of a building in which the finishing work, such as windows and doors, has been completed.
The tenth link is contact. After the sense organs have evolved they function through the sense consciousnesses to establish contact with outer sense objects, such as visible forms, sounds and so forth.
Contact gives rise to the eleventh link, feeling. Pleasant feelings arise from contact with pleasant objects, unpleasant feelings from unpleasant objects and so forth.
Aging and death
All this produces the aging process, the twelfth link of the chain of interdependent origination, which eventually finishes with our death.
We are all trapped in this process of repeatedly circling on the wheel of birth, aging, death, intermediate state and rebirth. It is not something special that applies to only a few beings or something that happens only to others. It is a process that embraces every one of us. We are caught in cyclic existence and experiencing the twelve links every moment of our existence.
It is very important to contemplate this. If we become fully aware of this constant process of evolution, we’ll come to a correct realization of the problems of samsara.
Meditating on this, we’ll gradually generate the sincere aspiration to achieve liberation. That aspiration is pure renunciation. However, merely having that aspiration is not enough; we must put great effort into practicing the methods that bring about liberation. On the one hand, we need the help and guidance of the objects of refuge, but from our own side, we must learn and put into practice the actual methods that have been taught. Through the combination of these two, we will attain liberation from the sufferings of samsara.
2. See His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s The Meaning of Life for a book-length teaching on the twelve links. [Return to text]
3. A discussion of how modern developments such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and so forth impact upon this traditional description of conception is beyond the scope of this book. [Return to text]